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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail

Credit: MemoryMan / Shutterstock

For those steeped in the world of digital marketing, direct mail seems like a dinosaur from another time. The conventional thinking is that people's mailboxes are overwhelmed, and that direct mail is super expensive to send. But in today's world, it's email inboxes that are exploding with blasts and social media alerts. And with the right strategy, direct mail services work.

According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), direct mail boasts a 4.4 percent response rate compared to an average email response rate of just 0.12 percent. That means for every 1,000 people you reach, 43 more people will interact with your direct mailer than with your email.

Sure, with email marketing, open rates and click-through rates can be tracked. With search engine marketing, you can see how many people visit your website and fill out an online form. With direct mail, sometimes you just sit and listen to crickets while you wait for something to happen. However, it's still a strategy that is very much worth trying for your business.

Editor's note: Considering using a direct mail service for your business? Use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, Buyer Zone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

A lot of these steps can be done out of order, but ultimately should all be completed to increase your success rate.

Direct mail comes in a variety of sizes, shapes and textures. The most common types of direct mail are postcards, letters and catalogs. While prices will vary based on the company you use for your direct mail needs, postcards tend to be the cheapest form of direct mail, factoring printing costs, stamps, time spent designing the postcards, and time spent putting together the mailing list. Oversized postcards may help your business mailers stand out – check your local post office for mailing costs. [Interested in direct mailing services? Check out our best picks.]

Another form of direct mail is a favorite to receive but the most expensive for businesses to send – packages filled with branded products. Some brands send magnets, pens, mugs and bags with their logo on it and some kind of advertising message enclosed. The messages may not survive the trash can, but the swag does, keeping those brands at the top of mind. [Take advantage of these USPS promotions to save money on your next direct mail campaign in 2019.]

It's common to send mailings to your current client base or prospects who have expressed interest either by signing up for your email list or filling out a form on your website – these are all good places to pull lists from. Some companies will purchase lists from list brokers, which should be done with caution and a grain of salt. When buying lists from brokers, the ROI tends to be lower, which may be because you don't know if those contacts actually need your services.

Hypertargeted lists will always yield better results. For example, if you sell lawn services, sending direct mail to welcome new neighbors to the neighborhood who likely have not yet chosen a lawn service provider can be helpful. If you pull a list of recently engaged couples, sending them a postcard with information on your wedding venue or DJ services is likely something they need. If you are new to direct mail, you can send a direct mail test to a few hundred people for a relatively low upfront investment.

Once you've determined who your direct mail will go to, create a targeted campaign. Don't send junk. Create a message that speaks to your prospects. In doing so, you need to know your prospects and customers. Build a buyer persona for them and get inside their head.

While messaging and timing will play key roles in the success of your campaign, design will not go unnoticed. The fonts, colors and images used in your direct mail all matter and should be carefully thought out. Ideally, they should come from our branding guidelines and be pulled together in a way that appeals to your buyer personas.

The key to making the direct mail process go smoothly is to have a print shop on your side that can facilitate the mailings for you, providing you have 100 or more pieces of direct mail to send. One hundred or less can be done in house without taking up so much time but save yourself the aggravation and send the project out to a print shop. A good print shop can also make suggestions on the type of direct mail to send.

Marketing and sales work hand in hand and the key to a successful direct mail campaign is a motivated and knowledgeable sales team that specializes in the art of follow-up. You may need to send a few consecutive direct mail pieces in order to get phone calls (or couple them with email campaigns). In between sends, your sales team should be reaching out to your lists referencing your campaigns and tracking conversations.

Here are a few final recommendations to consider that can help win you sales from direct mail campaigns:

  • Include coupons or give something away for free upfront – people love free stuff.
  • Ensure that your contact information is clear.
  • Consider timing and life stages.

Does direct mail work for every business? No. Should you expect to get results after sending one piece of direct mail? Also no. But should businesses try direct mail and not give up if they don't see results on one send? Absolutely yes, if they can afford the upfront expense and know they have an audience for it.

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.